Pandemonium has broken out.
“Why the f___ would I want to marry you? Why would anyone want to marry you?”
Natasha is yelling and has started to throw things about. At first, Jakey laughed so hard he spilt his food but now he’s choking and I have to pick him up by a leg, hold him upside down and slap him on the back. An unchewed lump of baby goo falls onto the table. Then, after a momentary pause, he is sick. After another momentary pause, he starts to howl.
Natasha had forgotten about the baby jar in the saucepan. It’s boiled over. There is hissing and steam and the smell of burning metal. While she attends to the hob she is close to a cup rack that provides her with more ammunition.
One cup smashes to pieces on the edge of the table beside me. A shattered CND logo on a white background flies past. Proof of the importance of deterrence I think to myself, before ducking as an Arsenal mug flies past
We’re in an Islington barrister’s flat where Stockholm syndrome sufferer Natasha appears to have found refuge as a nanny in between the undercover work she is supposed to be carrying out for my operation Swaling.
Having said that, the legal types are the same sort who have been taking advantage of the lost children from the provinces lured to London by the bright lights. Holed up in hostels, such as those run by the phoney Order of St Clifford, they’re tempted to the amusement arcades near Leicester Square where a meat rack and a chicken rack operate. Natasha having infiltrated the vice racket, something of the high end of the self-same vice racket seems to have infiltrated her.
While showing me her alternative version of my Swaling, nicely printed, properly presented but completely contradictory to what I had in mind, I’d been struck by an overwhelming re-occurrence of my ‘pang’.
During the coldest early summer on record, as another ice age approached, we were warming ourselves in the kitchen. Slightly damp after a rendezvous in the nearby Battishill Street Gardens, we were drying out while Jakey the toddler chomped contently on his baby food.
The pull of domesticated contentment lured me into putting my feelings into words and saying them aloud unthinking, with catastrophic consequences.
I was even wondering about how one might get an Aga up the stairs to a third floor flat.
And how on earth was I going to pay the school fees for our own little row of Jakeys? I’d have to eat into my secret newspaper story selling fund that sat in a private bank in Jersey.
“How about you and me, Natasha?” I’d asked.
It had been ominously silent. Not a tender moment either, an embarrassing one.
“We could get married. We don’t have to like each other. As with the Irish, not in Belfast, out in the countryside, the land comes first then the love.”
“We could be one of those Civil Service power couples, like…,” I couldn’t think of any. I changed tack, “Maybe a comprehensive school in Milton Keynes for the kids. I could commute. You could stare at the walls all day between school runs. Better than Leicester Square at night, being approached by weirdos. Nice and safe.”
I was already holding a hand over hers and we’d been touching at the knees since she’d opened the front cover of her report to try and convince me to it. I made to kiss her and earned a hard slap across the cheek for my effort.
Then came the yelling and throwing of things, simultaneous with Jakey throwing up and the cooker misbehaving.
Common necessities calm people down and bring them together eventually. Tidying the mess up before Jakey’s parents appeared from Lincolns Inn, or The Old Bailey, being ours. He tried to help. He copied us, placing both palms down to the table and wiping them about smearing baby goo all over the surface.
Also, never underestimate a woman’s mood-altering interest in another woman.
“I thought you had a little squeeze in Ulster?”
“I did but she didn’t want to follow me over here.”
“Rather be…,” Natasha began.
“Kidnapped and tortured by the IRA than live with me. Yes, we’ve had this conversation before, Natasha.”
“I’ll tell you what,” I chanced my arm again while hiding shards of china under an orange peel in a pedal-bin, “If we’re both still single when we’re twenty-five then we’ll marry each other. Deal?”
“My final offer.”
“You haven’t heard it yet. My final offer is, I’ll find you when we’re both thirty, and if you’re still not hitched, you’ll give me first refusal.”
I’m a very loyal person, God, England, the Queen. I’m not always sure why. I plod along, flags and crucifixes nailed to my mast. I added Natasha to the yardarm.
“You’ll be too busy, Worth.”
It wasn’t a ‘no’.
“You’re going to have the most remarkable career. Believe it or not, the high ups rate you. You’ll have to be kept away from England, obviously. You’re like a bull in a China shop over here, but you’re just the kind of self-effacing, reliable dinosaur they want over there.”
“Here, Ulster, back here again and then Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the States, the Far East. That’s usually the order isn’t it? Filth? Firstly In London, Terminates Hong Kong? You’re going to have a great time, but when you come back, if you can bear to come back, you might not want to come back, there may be a hill fort in the Atlas Mountains where the Bantu girls will serve you tiffin with the other relics until you die.”
“If you do come back, the place will have changed, you’ll see. My side of the Swaling argument will have prevailed. There’s a march through the institutions and I’m on it while you’re counting bananas with the district commissioner in Nyasaland. You’ll see. It’s the regressives who’ll be Swaled, not the progressives.”
I repeated my final offer. I would find her when she was thirty. Her silly ideas would have passed by then. England would be great again. Mrs Thatcher’s protocol would have prevailed. The likes of the duplicitous QC Anthony Liden, his plain wife and the Islington barrister classes would be scraping a living on divorces and house deeds, or better still, driving delivery vans.
Singapore! Forward Singapore! Onward Singapore! Two decades later, Mr Lee’s squashed diamond city-state at the hot end of the Malay peninsular sees me back in the dog house. Having told the tale while extricating ourselves from the comms room at the British High Commission during a smog infested tropical storm blowing across the straights from Indonesia, we’re back at myself and my wife Nicole’s rented townhouse in Dumfries Street, Kavan.
Besides myself and my wife, ourselves are my Chinese cousin Lotus and our maid cum Mr Lee’s finest agent, Rose.
Twenty years have passed. My older self is now looking back on a remarkably accurately predicted Cook’s tour on Her Majesty’s service and, not being expected to crawl through the metaphorical swamp with a metaphorical knife between my teeth too far north of forty, I am now weeks away from retirement.
Back in the dog house? You bet. Nicole having worked out we’d started dating in my (and therefore Natasha’s) thirtieth year, my pregnant wife is upstairs sobbing. I’m downstairs with another slapped face, a bunch of house flowers tipped over my crotch and one of Mr Stein’s vases smashed to smithereens next to a Turkish rug traceable to Saddam Hussein’s atom bomb project (which is what got us into this mess in the first place).
Lotus tut-tuts. Rose re-boots to maid mode, clears up the foliage and finds a cloth for me to dab my strides with.
I sit there morose, listening to Lotus.
“So that’s why they called the other barracks in the secret archive Battishill and kept all the politically incorrect data there. A great conflagration, up there with Waterloo and Trafalgar, this time between the forces of tradition and the forces of so-called progression, with Miss Natasha’s side perhaps prevailing in the fullness of time?” She ventured.
“Political correctness. Social constructs. Rights without responsibilities. What the hell’s happened to England while I’ve been away? Is it worth going back?” I wondered aloud.
“I really wouldn’t know,” Lotus snapped, “I’m trapped in Honkers with a British Overseas passport that, since the handover, doesn’t get me into Britain.”
“Not my idea, Lotus. The new airport was my idea. Make sure the Chinese Communist Party inherits a mountain of debt, the Foreign Secretary told me. Think it worked.”
It had been a long night. In fact, it was early morning already. We’d been awake for the full twenty-four hours during which time we had taken in the High Commissioner’s bash at his Eden Hall residence, a car chase courtesy of the North Korean secret service and a break-in at the High Commission to access the comms room. After all of that, we seemed to be no further forward.
“At least nothing else can go wrong, Mr Worth,” said Rose trying to be helpful.
At that point, the street gate buzzer rang.
To be continued…..
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file